Road Less Travelled

I had the pleasure of interviewing my post-doc, Dr. Stephen Mague, for this blog post. Dr. Mague attended Bates College for undergrad and got his PhD from the University of Pennsylvania.

I asked Dr. Mague why he chose to go into science. He said that he started off college taking science classes because he thought that he wanted to go to medical school. Though he originally saw his biology classes as a means to an end, during his junior year of college he discovered his love of neuroscience. It was a new, rare major that bridged his interests in psychology and biology so he began taking neuroscience classes. One such class was an animal models of behavioral disorders class where he got to do a class project and design an experiment studying Parkinson’s Disease in mouse models. He saw that it was possible to manipulate an animal’s behavior by changing brain levels of dopamine. Because of the class, Dr. Mague did a thesis project that extended his original work.

By the end of college, Dr. Mague was still in denial about being a scientist. He took three gap years working as a research technician where he learned more models of animal behavior, developed mouse surgical skills, and a love for studying animal behavior as it relates to neurological conditions. Dr. Mague was mostly motivated by intrigue in the general subject matter in which he was working and decided to go to grad school to pursue his interests.

Dr. Mague gave me some valuable insights that I would like to share with you all. First off, he explained that while grad school trains you to become a PI, most PhDs never become PIs. He said that it takes a specific skill set to be able to network, advocate for your lab, travel far and often, and be okay with being somewhat removed from the science that you work on. Next, he said that PhDs do not have to become professors either. He isn’t planning on ever teaching full time and has still made a career for himself in science. He said that there are many paths to go down in science besides the typical PI or professor route. Lastly, he said that it’s important to take care of yourself while you’re in school and not wait to live your life once you’re finished with school. I found this piece of advice to be particularly meaningful because I feel that at Duke it can be really easy to put yourself last behind all of your priorities. I think we can all learn a lot from what he had to say.

I really appreciate Dr. Mague speaking to me, and I found our conversation to be particularly informative and helpful. Though I couldn’t add all of our conversation to my post due to its length, all of what he said has helped me to focus on the importance of loving the science you do and realizing that the path you take may not be the path that everyone takes. It’s okay to make your own way in life and to be comfortable with yourself for doing so.

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